Sam Brady Headshot

Award-winning writer and performer Sam Brady talks about his new one-man play THINGS I SAY WHEN I DON’T SAY I LOVE YOU

Following the success of his show KINDNESS, award-winning writer and performer Sam Brady brings his new one-man play THINGS I SAY WHEN I DON’T SAY I LOVE YOU to The Lowry this week.

Focusing on the relationship between father and son, THINGS I SAY WHEN I DON’T SAY I LOVE YOU tells the story of a family learning to deal with a terminal disease. When his dad is diagnosed with Dementia, Ian decides to help him fulfil his dream to restore a classic car, roping his wayward son into the project too. But amid stripped engines, rusted metal and frayed tempers, the three men discover that piecing together the past can have unexpected consequences.

Ahead of its opening night at Salford’s The Lowry, Donna Kelly from Frankly My Dear UK caught up with writer and comedian Sam Brady to talk about the new show and what inspired him to write the piece.

Frankly My Dear UK (FMD): Can you start by telling us a little bit about your new show?

Sam Brady (SB): It’s called THINGS I SAY WHEN I DON’T SAY I LOVE YOU and it’s about three generations of men in one family. The son who is early twenties, the dad who is fifty and the grandad who is in his early seventies. They are three guys who live in South Manchester and they are typical in that they talk a lot but they don’t communicate very much. The Grandad is diagnosed with Dementia. He’s still in the early stages, very active and mentally alert but he’s facing this decline. It’s about how it affects the relationships in the family so the Grandad, who’s always been the alpha male, suddenly becomes someone who is quite dependent, meanwhile the son is trying to establish his independence and the guy in the middle, who is the main character, basically has to learn to let go of his son and learn to become a parent to his dad. It’s about all of those changing relationships. In the process of them restoring this classic car, there is this whole thing of bringing the past to life and all of these kind of demons, niggles and conflicts that they’ve been burying all these years start to surface. It’s about them learning to adjust and I suppose learning to love each other.

FMD: The play deals with family relationships and the changing stages of life. What inspired you to write this particular story? Is it based on personal experience?

SB: I’m at that stage that Ian is at in the play. I’m in my late forties, approaching fifty, so I’ve got a daughter in her early twenties, who is just becoming an adult. I’m having to let go of her and step back and I’m at the point where my parents are getting older. My parents were in a major car accident last year on the M62 and my mum had pretty bad broken bones. They have both recovered from it physically but I think that they both felt that it really aged them. It suddenly made them go from being quite fit, young people in their late sixties to being fragile and vulnerable and it really shook them up. It was the first time that I’ve had to really look after them and almost be a parent to them and it was a taste, I suppose, of the next stage. Just as you let go of being a parent to your kids, you become a parent to your parents. I think particularly seeing my dad, who has always been a feisty little bloke who would never shy away from a fight, become vulnerable was a shock to me. At the same time, I’ve known a few people who’ve had Dementia. My dad’s friend got it when he was quite young and my Nan had it, so I was aware of that. The idea of somebody disappearing in front of your eyes – they are still there but they are not accessible to you anymore – those two ideas came together and I thought what would happen if that happened to my dad? How would that change our relationship and affect our families? The idea developed from their really.

FMD: Dementia is serious condition affecting many families. How much research did you have to do when putting the project together?

SB: It’s interesting because the play isn’t really about Dementia but Dementia is in it so to do that justice, you’ve got to really make sure you get it right. We had some help from the Alzheimer’s Society and an organisation called Dementia Friends as well. I also spent some time with people with Dementia at various stages, talked through some ideas and ran some scenarios past them. We had some really good laughs actually and I’ve learned a lot. My idea of Dementia has completely changed since we started this. First of all, I was talking about Alzheimer’s thinking that Alzheimer’s and Dementia were more or less the same thing but of course, it’s much more complicated than that. One of the things was just spending time with people. For instance, I was saying to the group of guys, “I just want to run through this and I know you all want to come and see the play but unfortunately, I am going to have to tell you some stuff, there are going to be some spoilers” and they all just starting laughing. They said one advantage of having Dementia is that we never have any more spoilers, we’ll have forgotten so it’ll be fine. One guy said he’d had forgotten the beginning by the time we get to the end. It’s just all those sorts of things where they are dealing with it admirably. It’s a really scary thing because it’s a terminal disease and I think they are very scared. They are all proud people who are scared of losing their potency and losing their speech but then they’re typical Northern people who deal with it with humour.

FMD: Alongside the challenge of tackling the subject with care, there is also the challenge of trying to bring humour and warmth to quite a serious subject. How have you found that?

SB: I think it’s been fairly easy because of the work I’ve done with the groups. I started off with a lot of “Is it OK to say this? Is it OK to say that?” and they said yeah. One of the things they were saying is that once you get Dementia, the first thing that goes is your political correctness because you lose your inhibitions and you find yourself just blurting out what you really think. That was interesting. Tom, the character who has Dementia, he is already quite a cantankerous, outspoken person, even before he gets his diagnosis so he just becomes more and more cantankerous. There is a bit where he goes to a Dementia support group and it’s actually aimed at very old people, which a lot of these groups are, and Tom who is into Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix goes to this group and they are playing Vera Lynn and doing armchair aerobics, so he comes back fuming. He’s really scathing and quite rude about it and politically incorrect. I had to just let him rip because that’s what he would do. There is quite a lot humour in that. There are stories in it that are genuinely true stories that I’ve been told. For example, somebody went to a Dementia group and they decided to play charades and it took them 45 minutes to guess the film and then the next person stood up and did exactly the same film because they’d all forgotten. There are all sorts of funny things in it like that. I think there is a lot of humour and warmth in it, I hope there is.

FMD: You’ve had an interesting journey into comedy. How would you describe your comedy style and how does this come through in the writing?

SB: In the past when I did stand up, even when I did shows that were an hour and half, the were quite narrative shows so they’d be a big story arch but often because its comedy and stand up, there has to be jokes in there, people expect that, so you end up with the narrative chasing the jokes. You’re always thinking when the next joke is coming and one of the things that drew me to theatre was it’d be great to tell a story without having to chase the laughs. The difference is I’ve told the story first and let the humour emerge out of the story rather than it just being jokes for jokes sake. There have been times when I’ve put stuff in and thought that’s so funny but then I’ve had to cut it because it’s not integral to the story. That has been part of my journey, making that transformation. Also, a lot of influences have started to come through. When I’ve been writing a show, there’s quite a bit of Victoria Wood, that sort of Northern down-to-earth humour, and Alan Bennett as well with the Talking Heads because it’s a one-man play, coming through.

FMD: Because it’s a one-man play, do you find the material is constantly evolving as you’ve been working on it?

SB: Yeah. I think it’s just about settled but during rehearsals I’ve been doing rewrites every night because when you start doing it, you’re discovering things every time and realising this character wouldn’t say it like that. The first two weeks of rehearsals I was doing rewrites every night, printing off a new script and bringing it in. This week now, thank goodness, it’s settled but it’s really evolved during rehearsals. It’s been really exciting.

FMD: You took your last show KINDNESS on tour. What did you learn from that experience and how has it influenced you when writing your new show?

SB: They are quite different shows but I think one thing I was to bring in other emotions and give it some emotional depth. There’s a very sad moment in KINDNESS which always surprised audiences. I think what I learnt from KINDNESS is how to take an audience on an emotional journey so they can be laughing one minute and crying the next. When I go to the theatre, that’s what I want. I want to feel all these kind of things and I think KINDNESS taught me to do that. It’s quite a delicate thing to do, to take an audience when they’ve been feeling very sad and give them permission to laugh.

THINGS I SAY WHEN I DON’T SAY I LOVE YOU runs at The Lowry from 1 – 2 February 2018